Clubs have been exiting Venezuela for years, as political and economic challenges have made it difficult to maintain an academy and team in the country. For the 2015 campaign, just three other clubs besides the Tigers; the Rays, Cubs and Phillies, maintained a presence in the VSL. Many other organizations have elected to simply let scouts identify talent in Venezuela, and when signed, bring them to the Dominican for training and development.
The Tigers however have remained steadfast in having a presence in the country, believing that it gives them a leg up in competing for and identifying talent, in addition to the Venezuelan star power on the big league roster.
The 2015 campaign was marked by the club finishing second in the league standings, with a record of 38-32. With only four teams, the postseason consists of a best of three series, with the VSL Tigers going head-to-head with the VSL Rays, who finished atop the standings. The Tigers and Rays split the first two games, before taking the series clincher 5-2 to take home the title.
The Tigers rode a balanced attack to the title. On the mound, they finished second in the league in ERA, including tossing nine shutouts, which was good for tops in the league. Meanwhile at the plate they sported a .249 average, and a .669 OPS, both of which were also good for second in the league. They also scored 342 runs once again good for second in the league, completing the balanced attack.
Highly regarded shortstop prospect Anthony Pereira started the year in the VSL, spending nearly the first month of the season there. However, after that month he was clearly out-classing his opponents, with an .813 OPS including nine extra base hits, and was sent Stateside for stiffer competition.
The offense still produced, led by outfielders Hector Hernandez and Luis Torrealba, and catcher Elys Escobar, a member of the TigsTown Top 50 entering 2015. Hernandez led the club in qualified players in OPS at .748, and also had 17 extra base hits, tops on the team. Torrealba posted just a .228 average, but did rip 15 extra base hits, and led the team in home runs (3), walks (28) and runs driven in (36). Finally, Escobar proved solid all around, with a .280 average, 13 doubles and almost as many walks (25) as strikeouts (32), en route to a .739 OPS.
On the mound, the VSL Tigers had a number of pitchers excel in the rotation, with their entire rotation posting an ERA under three. Daniel Gonzalez led the way, with a 1.95 ERA over 15 appearances, 11 of them starts. Jesus Rodriguez, Ken Figueroa, Jose Vasquez and Jose Fuentes rounded out the rotation, with all of them performing well. Figueroa led the club in strikeouts with 46, and also had the lowest WHIP among the starters at 0.88.
However, the club also had a couple of excellent relievers, starting with Adonis Figuera, who posted a 1.64 ERA over 38 1/3 innings of work in relief. Limited at the age of 17, Figuera also notched three saves, as he walked eight and struck out 26. Besides Figuera, Hector Rodriguez served as the club’s closer, and while he had a comparably high 3.48 ERA, he also struck out more than a batter per inning (34 strikeouts in 31 innings).
Ultimately, rookie league ball is about succeeding at players developing. But the success of a guy like Pereira that resulted in a rare midseason promotion is notable, and the rotation showing the success that it did is especially important.
Manager Rafael Gil, who has led the team for several years, ultimately took them to find championship success. He did soy with youngsters like Escobar leading the way, giving additional indication that the club is producing future big league talent, while succeeding along the way.